Diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire mounted as the conflict between Israel and Gaza entered its 14th day, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 500 and prompting over 100,000 to flee their homes, according to the UN.
Israeli jets, tanks and artillery have relentlessly pounded the densely-populated coastal strip overnight, killing 28 members of a single family in the south.
At the Al-Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip, four people were killed and 70 wounded when an Israeli tank shell slammed into the third floor, housing operating theatres and an intensive care unit, the Health Ministry said.
The Israeli military said it had targeted a cache of anti-tank missiles in the hospital’s “immediate vicinity”.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which killed 13 Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Sunday in what was the deadliest day since fighting started on July 8, has continued to fire rockets deep into Israel and to dispatch infiltrators.
The Palestinian death toll has now risen to 536, including almost 100 children, Gaza health officials said. Israel said that seven more soldiers had been killed in fighting on Monday, bringing the total number of Israelis soldiers killed to 25, more than twice as many as in Israel’s last Gaza ground operation in 2009. Two Israeli civilians have also died from Palestinian rocket and mortar fire.
According to the UN, more than 100,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza, seeking shelter in the 69 schools run by the UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for providing assistance to Palestinian refugees.
"We witnessed the intense shelling of very densely populated areas," said FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fennwick, reporting from the Gaza Strip. "Residents were running terrfied out of their homes, not knowing where to go. You no longer feel safe wherever you are in Gaza."
UN Security Council calls for an immediate ceasefire
The continued violence is set against a backdrop of growing international concern over the mounting casualties on both sides of the conflict. On Sunday, the UN Security Council held an emergency late-night session, during which they called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
In a statement released early Monday, the UN Security Council expressed “serious concern” about the casualties in nearly two weeks of fighting.
“The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Rwandan UN Ambassador Eugene Gasana told reporters in New York. Rwanda is the acting head of the 15-member council.
In separate comments to the media, US president Barack Obama said that while Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks from Hamas, the US had “serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”
“That is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians,” he added.
A draft statement by Jordan ahead of the session called for the protection of civilians, the lifting of the “Israeli restrictions imposed on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip” and immediate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.But Jordan’s proposed resolution was not discussed.
The Palestinian UN envoy, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, expressed disappointment with the final Security Council statement. “We were hoping for the Security Council to adopt a resolution to condemn the aggression against our people,” he told reporters. But he said the statement was “a test” for Israel to see if it would comply.
Reporting from Gaza City just hours after the UN session ended, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said there was no sign of any cessation of hostilities on the ground. “Just moments ago, we heard some pretty heavy shelling coming from the [Israeli naval] vessels posted just near the coast of Gaza. That’s an indication that Israel is continuing its strikes over the Palestinian enclave,” said Fenwick.
Israel ‘foils’ two tunnel attacks
Meanwhile, violence intensified along the Gaza border on Monday and sirens wailed across much of central and southern Israel to warn of rocket attacks. At least nine missiles were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor, the army said.
A foiled Palestinian incursion into Israel left four Israeli soldiers and ten Palestinian fighters dead early Monday morning, Israeli military officials said, after gunmen from the Gaza Strip managed to infiltrate through two more of the tunnels that Israel says its ground operation is targeting.
Black and white surveillance footage supplied by the army, showed one group of five or six men crouching and firing in long grass. Seconds later they were hit by a large explosion, which sent a cloud of smoke and debris flying into the air.
Fighters from Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its allies, have repeatedly tried to infiltrate Israel over the past week through a vast network of hidden tunnels, looking to attack villages and army encampments that dot the border area.
Netanyahu sent in Israeli ground forces on Thursday to destroy the tunnels and the militants’ missile stock pile.